While many purists live and die by Delta and Chicago Blues, there’s a newer, younger group of players who are taking matters into their own hands and bending the rules to suit their vision and influence the direction of modern Blues music.
Canadian Bluesman Anthony Gomes whose dad is Portuguese and his mom French-Canadian is one of that group which includes players from all over the country, male and female, who never lived the hard scrabble life of the early Blues players and don’t know the hard times they endured to play America’s original music. Many listen and try to emulate.
They hear the music and have an idea, but in the days of You Tube and Facebook, it’s hard to completely understand what went down back in the day. So, to play the Blues, many stretch tradition in favor of their own approach.
Anthony was born and raised in Toronto but currently makes his home in St. Louis, Mo. “I moved here because it’s centrally located which makes it easy to tour,” Anthony says. “I lived in Chicago for four years to learn. I have to live somewhere with a good music scene.”
Anthony’s earliest influences included the usual suspects for a young man coming up in the age of heavy metal and hard rock. He was into Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, SRV, Clapton, and a long list of others. Even the Beatles. “My dad listened to classical music and occasionally the Beatles while my mom dug Elvis.” For Anthony, the Blues came into focus when Anthony was about 19.
“When I was 5 I wanted to be a super hero,” Anthony said. “When I was 9 I wanted to be a goalie for a professional hockey team. All the guys in Canada have that dream. Then when I was 14 I found the guitar and fell in love with it. I fell in love with the music. This is badass. A guitar player was a lot cooler than Superman or a goalie.
“I came up in the ‘90s at a time when people were saying white guys can’t play the Blues. White guys can’t play basketball. A lot of white people were saying ‘You can’t do that. You can’t tell me about life.’ Right off I had three strikes against me. I was white, Canadian, and young. I was listening to music that was a good 10, 15 years before my time and kids are still doing that.”
Determined to prove his detractors wrong, Anthony continued to play the Blues at night while working on his master’s degree in history from the University of Toronto. His thesis focused on the racial evolution of Blues music. While in Chicago he played briefly with Magic Slim and the Teardrops before putting his own band together in 1998 and winning the very first Buddy Guy’s Legends “Best Unsigned Blues Band” competition.
“After I got into the Blues from listening to Clapton and Stevie Ray and Hendrix, I started going back to the origins of the music. I wanted to see where it came from. I studied guitar in high school. And I learned from the records. Playing with Magic Slim in Chicago was the equivalent to a master class in traditional Blues.
As he began veering away from his rock and roll influences Anthony became enmeshed in the three Kings: Albert, BB and Freddie. He says BB is still his biggest influence. Then it was Albert Collins, Otis Rush, and of course, Buddy Guy. He still speaks highly of Stevie Ray, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and fellow Canadian, the late Jeff Healy.
“Those guys are gods in my eyes,” he says. “I love Buddy’s passion for the music. To me Stevie Ray Vaughan was the greatest Blues rock player who ever lived. When they all started passing we became the farm team. I’ll always feel an appreciation for them. There was only one Stevie. One Hendrix. One Muddy Waters.
“I toured with BB King which is at the top of the list because he’s been one of my main influences and the reason I play Blues. There’s not another one like him. He’s just the nicest man and best teacher you could have. Jeff Healey sat in with us at the Montreal Jazz Festival and my family was at that show, and I’ve got a huge family that doesn’t always get along. So, during the show, half of the family is sitting on one side and the other half is on the other. There were 10,000 people at that show. I always dreamed of playing Montreal. Another time was when we were in Finland playing the same festival with Robert Plant. What I was really impressed with is how Robert is such a huge fan of the blues and all music. He is a nice, humble man despite his status. Today as a Blues artist I listen to a variety of stuff and try to see where the artist is coming from. I am really into Walter Trout, and Bonnie Raitt. Both of them are super performers. I wrote a song called “Lady Soul” which is about Aretha Franklin who has always been a great inspiration to me. Listening to her has allowed me to get through some rough spots. There is nobody better at what she does.”
Anthony is defensive about his brand of Blues and his place in the pecking order claiming the purists want to create a box for different styles and different players.
“It’s all about going back to the source and finding your own sound,” Anthony says. “After all, there are only 12 notes and five scales to choose from. It’s like John Lennon said ‘Adam and Ever wrote the first song and everybody else has been stealing the riffs.’ I like to think of it in terms of a car accident. Ten people can witness it and not one of them can say they saw the same thing. I can appreciate where the purists are coming from but Muddy Waters lived in a different world and I don’t want to go there. He was the man. The purists want to keep the blues alive when it is alive. You just can’t keep the past alive. It’s like Civil War Re-enactments, they’re not real. Traditional Blues cover bands bore me. When you get a chance to go see the Chicago legends that are still with us, that’s a whole other story. These guys invented it, played it and defended it.
As a rule Anthony is regarded as a high-energy Blues rock act with all kinds of pyrotechnics and screaming guitar. He stepped aside from that image and produced an acoustic recording that allowed him to stretch his talents in another direction. “Before The Beginning” is a vast departure from Anthony’s usual offerings but the disc features some powerful, compelling, unplugged cuts.
“I wanted to show that there is more to our music than loud, ripping guitars,” Anthony says in a New England Concert Reviews 2013 interview. “By stripping everything down, we could feature the voice and songs. I wanted to capture the spirit of the old field hollers and get back to where the music came from. We only used acoustic instruments – drums, piano, acoustic guitars and acoustic bass. The most powerful of all the acoustic instruments is the human voice. When you put the harmonies in there, it’s just soul shaking. Musically, most people try to look ahead for inspiration. With the sounds of Muddy Waters or Robert Johnson, I hear the future of the blues tradition. This time, we went way back. This album is so yesterday, that it’s today.”
The best way to have control over your music is to create your own label, Anthony says. When he was starting out he released a couple of CDs independently and them signed to other labels. Now he says because of all the advanced technology it’s not necessary to be signed to a big label to get needed exposure and airplay. There’s no reason to compromise if you’re the boss. No one is there to tell you what to play or not to play.
“My biggest concern is being honest and true to myself. Blues is a very humbling way to make a living. Everyone wants to hear something they can relate to. You have to keep it fresh. I don’t intend to end up like AC/DC. They’ll tell you they’ve been doing the same thing over and over for far too long. Personally, as an artist, I want to try different things. My hope is my audience will stick with me no matter what I try. I feel very blessed and fortunate to be able to make a modest living playing the Blues. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Visit Anthony’s website at: http://www.anthonygomes.com/
Photo by Bob Kieser.